In the best tradition of Tessa Hadley, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ann Patchett—an astonishing, keenly observed period piece about an ordinary British woman in the 1950s whose dutiful life takes a sudden turn into a pitched battle between propriety and unexpected passion.
"With wit and dry humor...quietly affecting in unexpected ways. Chambers' language is beautiful, achieving what only the most skilled writers can: big pleasure wrought from small details."--The New York Times
LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION
1957: Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper in the southeast suburbs of London. Clever but with limited career opportunities and on the brink of forty, Jean lives a dreary existence that includes caring for her demanding widowed mother, who rarely leaves the house. It’s a small life with little joy and no likelihood of escape.
That all changes when a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth. Jean seizes onto the bizarre story and sets out to discover whether Gretchen is a miracle or a fraud. But the more Jean investigates, the more her life becomes strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys, including Gretchen’s gentle and thoughtful husband Howard, who mostly believes his wife, and their quirky and charming daughter Margaret, who becomes a sort of surrogate child for Jean. Gretchen, too, becomes a much-needed friend in an otherwise empty social life.
Jean cannot bring herself to discard what seems like her one chance at happiness, even as the story that she is researching starts to send dark ripples across all their lives…with unimaginable consequences.
Both a mystery and a love story, Small Pleasures is a literary tour-de-force in the style of The Remains of the Day, about conflict between personal fulfillment and duty; a novel that celebrates the beauty and potential for joy in all things plain and unfashionable.